A pilot program is starting at St. Joseph School in Randolph.
The Catholic school, which announced its reform program last spring, is implementing the changes with the new school year. In addition to various levels, the school also has expanded its outreach in music, physical education and art.
The first day of school is Tuesday.
"All of these are great," said the Rev. Thomas Acker, administrator of St. Joseph Parish and School. "It buoys your spirit."
The new music teacher is Yuliana Kvinta-Vogler, a native of Belarus, who now lives in Kent. She will oversee music programs not only in the school, but also the church, leading choirs for adults and children.
Acker said she also will offer a musical prelude before Mass and predicts that "some people are going to come early just for the concert."
"Music is uplifting at all ages, at all times," he said. "I want this place to be like the 'Sound of Music'."
Kvinta-Vogler previously worked as a substitute teacher for three years, teaching a variety of subjects while offering music lessons on the side. She said she's also done extensive research on the American education system.
"It's almost like we start in high school," she said. "By then it's almost too late."
Nicholas Nagle, a former U.S. Marine, will be the physical education teacher. After being wounded in combat, he recovered from his injuries and pursued a degree in physical education. He also will serve as a youth minister for the parish.
At the school, he said, Nagle will use the site of the former convent on the school campus for softball, soccer, football, volleyball and other outdoor games.
Kathy Keener has been hired as the school's art teacher.
Acker noted that some public school districts, such as nearby Field, have been forced to reduce programs like art, music and physical education to one semester per year.
"We're not retrenching," he said. "We're going up."
The school also has eliminated its latchkey program, because those services already are offered by the day care center. Though not affiliated with St. Joseph School, the day care is on the grounds of the church and is run by a parish member. Students enrolled in the day care also can become students of the school, walking to and from the day care.
The changes combine with the reforms that Acker proposed last spring. He said he has permission from the Diocese of Youngstown to run the program as a pilot, in hopes that it can be duplicated in other schools.
Instead of the traditional grade levels, Acker said his plan has 3, 4 and 5-year-olds in "Genesis," with a goal of establishing a foundation in structured learning, music and education.
The traditional early elementary of first through fourth grades will be known as "foundations," where children will learn the "four R's" of reading, writing, arithmetic and religion.
The former middle school years, from fifth through eighth grade, will be known as "high school preparatory."
The program also calls for teachers to specialize in subjects rather than teaching every subject, as most elementary school teachers do.
Acker said the program already is starting to pay off. There are now 109 students enrolled in the school, but a decade ago, the school had 196 students.
"We were losing 10 students a year," he said. "This year, we're the same as last year already, and we're expecting another 10. That's a turnaround of 20 percent."
Acker, a former university president, pointed out that many students pay for too many years of college because they spend their first year or so taking remedial coursework. That, he said, can cost them an additional $10,000 or more. Since graduates of the school have told him that their education there prepared them to hit the ground running in college, Acker says he tells parents that it's a case of "pay now or pay later."
"When you go here, you won't spend five or six years in college," he said. "You can pay $2,000 now and not have to pay an extra $10,000 for that extra year of college."
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